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Posted at 6:46 PM ET, 01/28/2011

Egypt’s spy chief stands in the wings

By Jeff Stein

Who will it be, the diplomat or the spy chief?

Mohamed ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as the U.N. nuclear watchdog, would be forgiven for dreaming of leading a peaceful transition to a post-Hosni Mubarak government.

But longtime observers of the region are putting their money on Gen. Omar Suleiman, the powerful chief of Egyptian intelligence.

In office since 1993, Suleiman has reportedly been grating at Mubarak’s plan to install his son Gamal as his successor. With protests roiling Cairo, he may now see his moment has come.

[UPDATE: Mubarak appointed Suleiman vice president on Saturday, Egyptian state television reported.]

An open question is whether he can count on help from his longtime friends in the CIA.

“Ask who they posit as a possible successor,” a State Department expert on the region says. “Bet you a beer, the name Omar Suleiman comes up more often than most.”

In December, the Wall Street Journal’s Jerusalem correspondent pronounced Suleiman "the most likely successor ... President Mubarak's closest aide, charged with handling the country's most sensitive issues.

"He also has close working relations with the U.S. and a lifetime of experience inside Egypt's military and intelligence apparatus," Charles Levinson wrote.

Likewise, the Voice of America said Friday, “Suleiman is seen by some analysts as a possible successor to the president.” “He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism.”

An editorialist at Pakistan’s “International News” predicted Thursday that “Suleiman will probably scupper his boss’s plans [to install his son], even if the aspiring intelligence guru himself is as young as 75.”

Suleiman graduated from Egypt’s prestigious Military Academy but also received training in the Soviet Union. Under his guidance, Egyptian intelligence has worked hand-in-glove with the CIA’s counterterrorism programs, most notably in the 2003 rendition of an al-Qaeda suspect known as Abu Omar from Italy.

In 2009, Foreign Policy magazine ranked Suleiman as the Middle East's most powerful intelligence chief, ahead of Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

In an observation that may turn out to be ironic, the magazine wrote, "More than from any other single factor, Suleiman's influence stems from his unswerving loyalty to Mubarak."

Correction: Apologies for an earlier version of this story misquoting Levinson calling Suleiman "a new face [who] has emerged as a possible contender to follow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak." He was referring to Ahmed Shafiq, the minister of civil aviation and a former commander of Egypt's air force. Mubarak appointed Shafiq prime minister on Saturday.

By Jeff Stein  | January 28, 2011; 6:46 PM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy, Intelligence  | Tags:  Omar Suleiman  
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Next: The CIA's complicated relationship with Egypt

Comments

Actually the "new face" Charles Levinson referred to in his December 2010 WSJ article was not Omar Suleiman but Ahmed Shafiq, the minister of civil aviation and a former commander of Egypt's air force. The piece noted in fact that Suleiman's "public profile has diminished, triggering speculation his star also may have faded."

Posted by: Boatster | January 28, 2011 10:02 PM | Report abuse

Better off with unswerving loyalty to free press. Had Bloody Mary with oss at Rusty Scupper. Heavy on the Mary, easy on the bloody. I'm in rust belt, could use a belt. The strong never know when to quit. Plant moss, not Kate.

Posted by: jobandon | January 31, 2011 9:11 PM | Report abuse

MA Spy, Open to all parties, but influenced by none. PA Spy, America in point of continuous service. Good service is hard to find. It's still good, even when it's bad.

Posted by: jobandon | January 31, 2011 9:59 PM | Report abuse

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